High On Fire
The Art of Self Defense (Man’s Ruin)
by Brian Varney
Fury, brutality, anger, chaos. All words that come to mind when attempting to formulate a description of something as unrelenting as The Art of Self-Defense. Of course, I should immediately make a distinction between High on Fire and the ugly assault of, say, Burning Witch, Nightstick, or the Melvins. As weird as I feel saying this, High on Fire has a fundamental musicality that those bands don’t have (and most likely don’t care about). That isn’t to say that this album is going to win praise from musicologists or anything, but it seems like High on Fire are a little more interested in crafting songs (or at least riffs) than just bashing out an angry wall of assaultive noise. Yeah, they like Sabbath’s heaviness, but they also like the way they put riffs together. This stuff is loud and angry, but it moves. You’re not gonna be able to dance to this or anything, but compared to the bands mentioned above, this might as well be James Brown.
For those not in the know, High on Fire is the latest project from Matt Pike, formerly of Sleep. If you’ve heard any of the Sleep records (particularly the last one, Jerusalem), the sound of High on Fire won’t surprise you much: and I don’t imagine you’ll be complaining about it too much, either.
This album’s six songs clock in a little over 43 minutes, but it might as well last a couple hundred years. And I mean that in a good way: This is music that alters time, where a single note can last a year or two, and a reverberating riff is your lifetime. They could probably put their fingers on the strings to stop the reverberation and, you know, play another riff or something, but what would be the point of that? In fact, if that strikes you as a sensible idea, you’d probably be best to bypass High on Fire entirely. If, on the other hand, the sound of a buzzing amp can enthrall you for an hour or two, and it angers you that you didn’t think to call a song “Fireface” first, then you’ll probably find this album an endless source of entertainment.